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2005-06-15 - Raphael Deposition Borghese Gallery detail

Jaguar Sponsors Promotional Restoration of Raphael’s “Deposition”

Raphael’s Deposition in the Borghese Gallery, a masterpiece from his pre-Roman phase, has recently undergone a vigorous cleaning at the hands of restorer Paola Tollo Dickmann (after the original chief restorer, Laura Ferretti, resigned citing personal reasons).

Even though the work had been restored and reintegrated between 1966 and 1972, according to Kristina Herrmann Fiore, Direttore Storico dell’Arte at the Borghese, the intervention was necessitated by the detachment of the paint from the panel at the seams. In addition to addressing the issue of the adhesion of the pigment, the recent intervention also examined the efficacy of supports added to the back of the panel during the 1966-72 cleaning. Varnish, said to have been applied at that time and blamed for obscuring the colors, was also removed with an alcohol mixture, although the restorersthen applied a new coat of “protective varnish” (which it is acknowledged will yellow and have to be removed and replaced in 50-60 years).

2005-06-15 - Raphael Deposition Borghese Gallery detail

Raphael, The Deposition, 1507 (detail) Courtesy: Borghese Gallery.

Despite the proud acclamations of those involved in the restoration, there have already been several voices of dissent, and from within the restoration establishment itself. The Roman restorer Antonio Forcellino wrote a long item in the daily paper Il Manifesto on 8 May 2005, questioning the very need for the intervention and asserting, “This reconfirms how crucial and dubious the situation surrounding the care and the conservation of masterpieces is.” Other critics of the cleaning have also emerged. One is Carlo Guarienti, who was trained at the Istituto del Restauro and contributes to ;Nuances, the journal of ArtWatch’s French associate ARIPA. Another is restorer Laura Mora of the Istituto del Restauro, who worked on the Deposition during its last intervention, and who therefore has intimate knowledge about the work and its condition. Both spoke out in interviews for Il Messaggero on 14 May. Guarienti, when asked about the results of the cleaning, said bluntly, “They have ruined it. It is a disaster.” He argues that the cleaning was too severe, and rather than just removing later applications of varnish, the restorers removed Raphael’s own velatura, the translucent layers of pigment used to harmonize the underlying colors. Mora, whose name has been invoked as the teacher of Paola Tollo Dickmann, argues that the work was in perfect health, and was in no need of restoration.

The recent restoration, which also involved the Opificio delle Pietre Dure of Florence, l’Enea and the Vatican Museums, was carried out with the sponsorship of Jaguar Italia S.p.A., who put forth 40,000E for the project. The considerations of deep-pocketed sponsors, as always, seem to affect the decisions regarding which objects require interventions. As Guariento notes, private sponsors are only interested in the works of major masters, like Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Titian, and in the end, they expect a noticeable change in the work. The result has been an epidemic of these “promotional restorations,” which for financial reasons the restoration establishment has been all too willing to carry out. Raphael’s broad appeal has made him a favored artist for this practice, presumably for his public relations value in the eyes of marketing experts who advise companies like Jaguar and Estee Lauder, the latter of which in recent years sponsored the restoration of Raphael’s ;La Fornarina and the diagnostics (i.e. pre-restoration) of his La Bella.

For Jaguar, the sponsorship fits into its thematic Year of Culture, during which they’ve sponsored various events, as well as an exhibition in Naples’ Museo di Capodimonte, Caravaggio, l’ultimo tempo 1606-1610. Jaguar has related its passion for masterworks to their interest in technology and the design of their automobiles. In sponsoring the restoration, the company has expressed its desire to leave permanent evidence of their involvement, which they term the “Jaguar Difference.”

The museum, too, appears to have had one exceptional motive — besides the well-being of the painting — for carrying out the restoration. Even at the time of the 15 March 2004 announcement, there was already a plan for a blockbuster exhibition at the Borghese Gallery, now set for the Spring of 2006 and entitled Raffaello a Roma. 1507. The newly restored work, which was executed in 1507 for Raphael’s Perugian patron Atalanta Baglioni, will be its star attraction. Undoubtedly there is an interest in capitalizing on the success of the recent Raphael show at the National Gallery in London, which rode on the coattails of the media buzz surrounding the purchase of the Madonna of the Pinks, and to which the Borghese lent their recently restored ;Lady with a Unicorn. And the show will be a blockbuster indeed, as it will be the first major exhibition on the artist in Rome, for which they fully expect international cooperation.

Despite the protests of several restorers, the press is largely celebrating the results of the cleaning, championing Raphael as a great master of color and writing of “Un’esplosione di colori freschi e cangianti”, recalling the spectre of the Sistina restoration. Yet with the underlying thought of a major exhibition looming, one cannot help but be skeptical that, as Forcellino stated, the urgent conservational need regarding this painting may have been overstated. Perhaps the desire to establish Raphael as a brilliant young colorist at the end of his Florentine period (in which case the work could be compared to the similarly over-restored Doni Tondo of Michelangelo) and right before his move to Rome — where Michelangelo would display his use of bright, unmodulated hues in the Sistina (as they now appear post-restoration) — was enough to whet the appetites of the powers involved. According to the eyewitness account of an ArtWatch member in Rome, the results are highly negative, despite the promises that the cleaning would be done with “absolute delicacy and maximum prudence”.

In this case and today, more the rule than the exception, interventions are done without first establishing a consensus — or at least engaging in a debate among experts in the various fields involved — regarding the need for and the goals of such an intervention, so that there are no controls whatsoever. In fact, it has been claimed that the Istituto Centrale del Restauro was not consulted or advised even as decisions were made regarding the cleaning, and that uninvolved experts did not see the restoration while in progress. ArtWatch believes that potentially opposing voices should, for the sake of the object itself, be solicited by the superintendents and the museums, so that the aesthetic judgments or underlying motives of a small and intimately involved group of individuals do not permanently affect the oeuvres of the great masters. And just as it is both right and necessary to question these motives, we should also make the public aware of the potentially hazardous influence of corporate sponsorship, and urge them to refuse to buy products of those companies who sponsor such illicit interventions.

Aosta. Presentazione dei Atti, Medioevo aostano: La Pittura intorno all’anno mille in Cattedrale e in Sant’Orso.

L’esito finale di una iniziativa messa in opera più di una decina di anni fà, quando allora c’era il signor Rollandin, Presidente della Regione, René Faval, Assessore alla Cultura, il Dr. Domenico Prola e Flaminia Montanari alla Soprintendenza delle Belle Arti, si é concrettizzata oggi con questi volumi che contenono gli atti del Convegno. Prima di tutto é doveroso per me offrire a voce alta i miei ringraziamenti, la mia ammirazione e la mia stima alla bravissima redattrice dottoressa Sandra Barbieri che a cominciare dal progetto del ” Medioevo Aostano: La pittura intorno all’anno mille in Cattedrale e in Sant’Orso” fino alla pubblicazione degli atti ne è stata la locomotrice assoluta. Ha eseguito tutto il suo compito con intelligenza, buon gusto e con accuratezza esemplare. Se il libro dovesse appartenere soltanto ad una persona, sarebbe sicuramente suo, complimenti Sandra! Desidero aggiungere che senza il minimo dubbio questa pubblicazione rimarrà nella storia un testo essenziale per tutto il mondo. Nel frattempo altri storici e ricercatori di diversi livelli sono intervenuti, mentre all’origine c’era anche l’architetto Renato Perinetti che, come abbiamo sentito, possiede un assoluto controllo sulla materia aostana medievale e sui problemi, come ha rivelato nel suo contributo degli atti, colmo di novità di dati e di concezioni. Ha inoltre offerto uno spunto rigoroso per farci comprendere l’archeologia,”se si puo’ dire” della cattedrale stessa, con le riconstruzioni e molti suggerimenti tutti convincenti. Naturalmente tutta l’operazione si è svolta in un’atmosfera di completa collaborazione interdisciplinare tra architetti, storici dell’arte, studiosi di storia, restauratori, e scienziati. Il risultato dei test dendrocronologici, per esempio, offre una conferma per gli anni della costruzione, tesi sostenuta da Perinetti. Questo fu reso possible con l’intervento del Laboratoire Romand de Dendrochronologie, Moudon-Suisse. D’altro canto Daniela Vicquery si è occupata degli affreschi di lunga data. E’ stata lei a dirigere i lavori delicatissimi del restauro del ciclo, partendo dal 1987. Il suo desiderio operativo fu di non indirizzarsi “verso una musealizzazione del ciclo pittorico; ma si è tentato invece di alterare il meno possibile l’ambiente, in modo da non smarrire il riferimento spaziale all’ interno del contesto architettonico”. E questo deve essere condiviso ed applaudito.

Il discorso di Joseph-Gabriel Rivolin che tratta d’ un esame profondo delle fonti locali delle due chiese principali in argomento: la Cattedrale e la chiesa Sant’Orso, affrontando problemi di antica data sulla istoriografia, sulla cronologia nonché su i presunti costruttori delle chiese, sulla fantomatica chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, e in generale ha realizzato un quadro storico che resterà essenziale nei tempi per comprendere la pittura dell’epoca.

Il contributo focale e altrettanto impegnativo è quello proposto di Hans Peter e Beate Autenrieth, che in un certo senso rappresenta la parte più rilevante del libro, dedicato a Domenico Prola il predecessore di Perinetti in qualità di Soprintendente che diede il via ai primi lavori per il ritrovamento degli affreschi. Questi due studiosi hanno lavorato senza sosta per quasi un quarto di secolo, per approfondire argomenti sulla pittura murale aostana. Questo rimarchevole saggio diventerà da oggi un sine qua non per gli studi della pittura aostana mediovale, e anche europea di quegli anni. Il loro testo arricchito da più di 300 note sarà una miniera per i futuri studiosi. E’ quasi impossibile fare un resoconto adeguato di questo lavoro, poichè fu eseguito con passione, percezione acuta, e amore. Cominciando dal tesoro della documentazione fotografica, dalle ricostruzioni, dagli studi sulla calligrafia, dai paragoni stilistici tra gli affreschi della cattedrale e quelli di Sant’Orso. Gli autori hanno ponderato le iconografie dei murali nella Cattedrale, notando particolari unici per l’epoca, come la rielaborazione delle storie di Sant’Eustachio, e la combinazione dei soggetti del Nuovo e Vecchio Testamento. Hanno aggiunto infine che “…l’iconografia …non è ancora chiarita in tutta la sua complessità.”

Non soddisfatti di studiare soltanto le immagini nel loro contesto, gli Autenreich hanno anche esaminato la tecnica pittorica e problemi sulla distinzione delle mani sia nel ciclo della cattedrale, che in quelle di Sant’Orso. Hanno individualizzato due pittori distinti nella Cattedrale, uno
di quali, loro concludono, fu il pittore della Collegiata di Sant’ Orso. Questi loro suggerimenti di connoisseurship saranno un punto di partenza per tutti gli studi futuri.

Gli storici dell’arte sono, in genere, molto interessati, se non addirittura fissati, sulle datazioni. Dal canto loro i nostri autori hanno concluso proponendo una data intorno alla metà del secolo XI, specificatamente il 1040-50, che sembra essere confermata dall’esame dendrocronologico. Inoltre questi studiosi hanno preso in considerazione i delicati problemi che il restauro comporta. I loro commenti sui restauri combaciano molto bene con i miei, quando dicono “noi proponiamo a questo punto di desistere assolutamente da ogni ritocco o restauro pittorico….e di rinunciare a sostanze protettive. ”

A riprendere il soggetto affascinante della iconografia sia del ciclo della Cattedrale che di quello di Sant’Orso è stata la professoressa Costanza Segre Montel in un ampio studio. Montel pur prendendo in considerazione spunti da altri, fa le sue osservazioni basate molto su esperienze provate in Piemonte. Essa riconosce anche i rapporti fra i due progetti e pone più enfasi sulla loro corrispondenza. In particulare modo ha portato alla luce il registro con gli antenati di Cristo ricostruendoli a cominciare da Abramo a Santa Maria. Per quanto riguarda l’altra serie, Montel sottolinea che ci sono vescovi a mezzo busto che offrono problemi iconografici ancora molto difficili. Anche questo studio rientra nel contesto dei problemi delle “mani” dei due cicli, che vede un maestro presente in tutti e due. Questo contributo è munito di un ricchissimo apparato di note.Investigazioni di carattere scientifico vengono presentate da varie persone in rapporto al restauro, con differenziati contributi tecnici che formano una documentazione fondamentale per il futuro. Il commento di Lorenzo Appolonia, Simonetta Migliorini e Carlo Vaudan asserisce che “il processo di restauro è, di per sè, un atto di aggressione sulla superficie dell’opera d’arte.” Questo importante riconoscimento dovrebbe essere scritto in lettere maiuscole in tutte le officine di restauro. Ciò non vuol dire, però, che il restauro non debba essere fatto su un oggetto, ma è preferibile che si riconosca almeno l’esistenza e la possibilità di un’altra scelta. In questo caso, come ci ricordano gli autori, non si poteva individuare la pittura che era coperta da un voluminoso spessore, senza restauro.

Anche i restauratori hanno ragionato sul loro intervento, in cui la parte più problematica, almeno per me, si trova nella rubrica “Il ritocco integrativo.” I tecnici rilevano che: “Si è quindi cercato di intervenire in modo limitato, ma adeguato a dare una omogenea leggibilità ….alle superfici.”

Per chi si intende questa leggibilità? Per gli specialisti, per i visitatori qualificati, o per i turisti in media? Il problema della leggibilità è antico e molto complesso: ci sono soluzioni che richiedono molta ridipintura fino al punto di offrire una tonalità neutra. Poi, senza proseguire troppo su questo argomento, ci si deve chiedere fino a quando possa essere leggibile, perchè gli anni 1980 sono senza dubbio diversi da quelli del 1990, chissà come si presenterà una buona leggibilità nel 2010? Anche le questioni di reversibilità sono molto argomentative e difficili, ma di questo si può discutere altrove più adeguatamente. Cito, comunque, il testo del chimico dell’ Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze [Mauro Matteini] che scrisse di recente: “I restauratori sanno bene quanto sia difficile realizzare nella pratica un’effettiva reversibilità e come sia quasi impossibile, in particolare, andare a rimuovere un consolidante a distanza di tempo.”

Nel campo del restauro uno dei punti più urgenti è una manutenzione continua e il controllo ambientale con tutti i problemi. Per esempio, alla Sistina, dopo il restauro degli affresci di Michelangelo, si mise in operazione un sistema allora considerato moderno e, secondo il Vaticano, efficace. Per vedere le soluzioni proposte per la Cattedrale di Aosta, si consulti l’articolo di Carlo Vaudan e Simonetta Migliorini negli atti.Un contributo di un genere totalmente diverso è stato offerto dallo storico Giuseppe Sergi, che presenta un quadro delle condizioni politiche nel presunto in cui gli affreschi furono eseguiti. Storico-artistiche sono, invece, le osservazioni di Andriano Peroni, che propone i punti di partenza per la programmazione degli affreschi nell’ottica di una architettura fittizia, ricreata con l’aiuto di minime tracce rimaste. Il contributo di Herbert L. Kessler è centrato sul problema iconografico-culturale del ciclo di Sant’Orso dove sussiste una mescolanza di immagini del Nuovo Testamento e di eventi agiografici. Questi appaiono del tutto casuali e frammentari per certi studiosoi mentre per altri fanno parte di un programma coesivo. Siccome non è possibile risolvere completamente il problema, Kessler li connette con altri cicli presenti ad Assisi e a Roma, fino al punto di collegare Sant’Orso (anche dedicato a San Pietro) al Vecchio San Pietro.

In una lezione presentata da Paula D. Leveto, che concentra la sua attenzione su i famosi murali di Castelseprio, che per mezzo secolo se non dippiù sono stati discussi dagli specialisti per quanto concerne la loro datazione. Con l’aiuto di modernissimi metodi, come il Carbone 14, e con una esaminazione tecnica dei materiali, Leveto è giunta a una conclusione, contraria di quella esposta da Bertelli, per cui gli affreschi sarebbero stati dipinti durante una fase posteriore alla construzione dell’edificio, un tipo di argomento questo molto rilevante per gli affreschi aostani. Nel caso di Castelseprio, esistono indicazioni fisiche che dimostrano che la preparazione e la dipintura furono eseguite in un singolo processo. La situazione contemporanea della pittura murale sono state studiate da Marie-Thérese Camus per certe chiese nella Francia centrale che ci offrono paragoni assai indicativi con Aosta, mentre Joaquin Yarza Luaces fa un confronto con la pittura e le miniature nei regni di León e Navarra intorno all’anno Mille.

Armata di un bibliografia formidabile, che comprende dozzine di manoscritti, con questa pubblicazione si è aggiunto un immenso e utilissimo repertorio fotografico dei due cicli. A parte, il secondo volume potrà essere utile agli studiosi con cui facilmente potranno fare i confronti dei due monumenti: questo “Atlante Fotografico” è in sé un modello di qualità.

Sono, devo ammettere, molto orgoglioso di aver fatto parte di questa pubblicazione anche se minima, con la convinzione che abbiamo davanti a noi un modello di come si deve fare uno studio di questa complessità. Sono anche convinto che con la presenza di questi due volumi la centralità di Aosta per il sviluppo della pittura subito dopo l’anno Mille, ironicamente giustamente 1000 anni fa, sarà confermata. Nel senso non di retorica politica, ma dal punto di vista della qualità sia per gli studi, sia per le pubblicazioni, sia per tutto il lavoro dedicato alla presentazione dei lavori fatti che hanno reso visibili questi meravigliosi dipinti, la Regione della Valle d’Aosta deve essere vivamente congratulata.Voglio augurare, infine che tra non molto un simile congresso possa essere organizzato per la scultura aostana della stessa epoca come era stato già programmato, con particolare attenzione a Sant’Orso, e con la speranza che Sandra Barberi avrà ancora la forza di portare avanti questa iniziativa.

Masaccio’s Trinity: The Tyranny of the Fragment

The Direction of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence graciously permitted me to visit the ongoing restoration of Masaccio’s Trinity, in Santa Maria Novella, on Thursday August 31st, 2000.

 

In interviews published in Florentine and Torinese newspapers I had publicly lamented the restoration. My objections, in part, were based upon a firm conviction that the mere decision alone to carry on this restoration represented a cultural presumption one which aims at dramatically altering the appearance of the painting as we have come to know it. No broad consensus about taking this step had been developed, not to mention calling was an international meeting or conference of specialists and interested parties. The step to intervene was taken unilaterally. But still more crucial to my disappointment, one has to look in vain for a carefully calibrated statement, or any statement at all for that matter, regarding the need of the “drastic” (the word used by the Opificio official in charge of the operation) intervention nor its goals, which should precede any such work. We have no reports concerning the painting following a restoration by the late Leonetto Tintori, conducted at the beginning of the 1960s. Furthermore a statement about the methodology proposed, if one exists, should have been made public, in my opinion. All the procedures used normal by a medical intervention, for example, were passed over, at least according the information I have been able to obtain. The Opificio, presumably with permission from the appropriate Florentine superintendencies, decided to move ahead without the formalities mentioned. Apparently an occasion offered itself: the church had been closed for an overall, elaborate scrub down as part of the Jubilee Year celebrations. Why not do the Trinity, was the thinking, I can only guess.

My purpose here is not to rehearse the history of the fresco and its various restorations, much less an evaluation of the cleaning and refurbishing of the Brancacci Chapel frescoes. On the other hand, it is worthwhile to underscore the obvious: Masaccio’s Trinity is arguably the single most prestigious painted work executed in the Early Renaissance. Here for the first time we find an effective combination of characteristics are regarded as “modern.” A thorough explication of the new, or if you insist, the revived perspective together with the rendering of the gravitational and monumental human figures are immediately apparent. The spatial complexity of the Trinity continue to amaze and baffle if the most experienced critics. Although Masaccio apparently painted recognizable likenesses in the Sagra (Cloister, SM. del Carmine), a fresco which has not survive, in the Trinity we find for the first time profile portraits on a large scale of the donors. . For good reason, the Trinity is featured in all general histories of art a seminal painting.

The modern history of the Trinity includes having been moved twice, once in the mid-Nineteenth century, and again in the mid-Twentieth, is well documented and beyond the scope of my presentation. Inevitably there has been losses in these moves, especially around the edges of the mural, while others had been incurred during the ‘strappo.’ Additionally ‘normal’ deterioration which may be expected over the life of a painting executed 575 years ago did not spare this fresco.

Whatever needed to be done in the 1990s, it could not have been the result of water or humidity in the wall, the usual enemy of fresco, because it had been separated from the wall by Bianchi 150 years ago. Was there an emergency which dated back to the beginning of the end of the 1980? If that had been the case, the officials, who already floated the idea restore the Trinity back then following the completion of the Brancacci Chapel (1988), they should have intervened much earlier than 1999. If they waited and a bone fide threat to the life of the painting was present, one might form the opinion that a dereliction of some kind surrounded the delay. Presumably, therefore, we can confidently conclude that there was no immediate emergency whatsoever. Consequently there would have been plenty of time for a more patient and less secret approach to the restoration.

My purpose here is not to rehearse the history of the fresco and its various restorations, much less an evaluation of the cleaning and refurbishing of the Brancacci Chapel frescoes. On the other hand, it is worthwhile to underscore the obvious: Masaccio’s Trinity is arguably the single most prestigious painted work executed in the Early Renaissance. Here for the first time we find an effective combination of characteristics are regarded as “modern.” A thorough explication of the new, or if you insist, the revived perspective together with the rendering of the gravitational and monumental human figures are immediately apparent. The spatial complexity of the Trinity continue to amaze and baffle if the most experienced critics. Although Masaccio apparently painted recognizable likenesses in the Sagra (Cloister, SM. del Carmine), a fresco which has not survive, in the Trinity we find for the first time profile portraits on a large scale of the donors. . For good reason, the Trinity is featured in all general histories of art a seminal painting.

I take this opportunity to comment upon what I saw on that hot Thursday morning in August in an effort to better comprehend general conditions surrounding current fresco restoration practice. Besides, I will offer an up-to-date alternative to the embracing actions which have been undertaken far and wide over the recent past and which are promised in the future, unless the culture is prepared to take preventive steps.

Instantly I was impressed by the formation of the scaffolding with its horizontal platforms or levels resting up against the fresco in a configuration obviously created to facilitate the restorative activity but which, at the same time, is highly arbitrary with regard to the picture itself. These zones have no rapport with the picture’s composition nor the location of the figurative imagery within it. To be sure, the system applied is standard, and here lies one of the most damaging aspects of modern restorative procedure. Not only does it fail to offer an overview as work progresses, but even large subdivisions are not visible as comprehensible units. As every beginning art student learns, any changes in one portion of a painting affects the rest. Hence by the very physical structure imposed upon the restoration, an overview must await the removal of the entire scaffolding. Is there any wonder that one of the most common lamentations among critics of restorations these days is the loss of unity of the whole and harmony among the parts. I suggest that this is an inevitable result.

A restorer however skilled and devoted to his craft must find it virtually impossible, in my opinion, to get much right once placed in such an operational straight jacket. The effects of this kind of arbitrary division is staggering. It requires that while working on the lower portion of the body of the Crucified Christ, for example, the upper portion and the head may not even be visible. To make matters worse, this condition holds true during both principle phases of such interventions: (1) the cleaning, and (2) during repairs, repainting, inpainting and other surface adjustments. Parenthetically, I must add that the word repainting is a term that restorers spurn, preferring instead “inpainting,” or some other euphemism. My view remains that if brushes and colors are used and you apply the colors with brushes, that activity is “painting,” and when it replaces previous colors that were once on the surface, that is “repainting.”

Most artists insist that they remain in control of the entire work as they proceed even on large canvasses or walls. This possibility is largely eliminated not only by the system of layering just described, but also because the space allotted to the scaffolding is extremely shallow. That many restorations use this construction does not alter the implicit weakness of the practice. The conditions are unreal ones which virtually force the operator to approach the art object be approached in fragments and details often with the aid of magnifying glasses.

Conversely, the severely constricted working area makes it impossible to get distance when looking at one section or another of the painting. During the cleaning and repainting, there is never an opportunity to revert to the correct viewing distance, which is roughly calculated by artists as double the height. The remarkable application of linear perspective cannot be understood from arms length. In other words, the most distance which can be obtained from the cage is severely inadequate, another indication that the current methodology it flawed.

The question of lighting is yet another factor which adds to the distortion of the visual conditions under which modern restoration unfolds. Symptomatically, when I was there, a staff member kindly offered me a strong lamp, the ones they use during the restoration process, to view up close the surface and what they were doing. I rejected the offer remarking that Masaccio did not have such lamps when he painted the frescoes, so I hardly need them merely to view it. The question goes far beyond this particular intervention. The strong lights used for the cleaning in particular offer a totally unreal view of the object and I suspect leads to all kinds of aberrations (as is the case with the Sistine Ceiling) once “normal” light is applied. The conceptual approach to the restoration task, as it was done in the case of Leonardo’s Last Supper for over 20 years, is to treat the surface, dealing with tiny pitems, minuscule flacks of original paint, treated under strong light and with magnification. Behind this artificial environment is the assumption that the cleaning is somehow “scientific”, and it is enough to work millimeter by millimeter and then miraculously the whole will take care of itself. Well, it never does. Not in the Sistine Chapel, not in the Choir of San Francesco in Arezzo, and not for the Trinity.

None of what has been stated above should be viewed as a specific criticism of the restorers at work at Santa Maria Novella. They are doing what all their colleagues do. What I am suggesting is that the underlying assumptions and the methods of work are inadequate at best. Many of the great cycles that have been recently restored were better left alone, and let us not forget the Correggio’s in Parma. If there was a real emergencies concerning the life of a marvellous work, one might concede that the intervention, even with misguided assumptions, had to be undertaken. Actually I was assured that there was no immediately emergency in the case of the Trinity, nor for Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling and Leonardo’s Last Supper.

More specifically related to the Trinity, (but true of the others to one degree or another), Tintori’s retouching and repainting [sic] done in water color had been removed. Evidently that was an easy task. On the other hand the restorations and repainting by Bianchi, being more permanent in terms of technique. were retained. The choice of keeping one intervention with all its assumptions and removing another with its own set of assumption was not the result of a philosophy. Instead the decisive element was convenience. It was easy to remove Tintori and difficult to remove Bianchi’s work. Hardly an assuring path.

Another disturbing aspect of the Trinity restoration is the application of Barium Hydroxide as a consolidate. The use of this chemical which has a longish history especially in Florence, where its modern application was ‘invented,’ is not used by the Istituto Centrale di Restauro in Rome, the other governmental restoration center. It is not my intention to take sides on the controversy as to whether Barium is a “good” chemical or a bad one or one that on balance should or should not be used.. That Italy’s two governmental restoration institutes differ on its application, at best is puzzling and should alert the public to the experimental character of the product. Are we tranquil about using it one of the world’s most rare pictorial productions? Would it not have been more prudent to apply more traditional materials? The same kind of questions can be raised for the chemical cleaner AB57 used on the Sistine Ceiling, a product which is practically never used anymore, being regarded as to harsh. These questions cannot be answered by simplistic claims of one side or another. They should be the subject of serious debate by the entire field, including experts on Renaissance Painting, artists and member of the culture in general. Until they are resolved, however, we should probably ban their use as we do for unproven new medicines.

Right from the start, the “drastic” modern intervention, done while the church was closed to the public and thus largely unnoticed, remains an experiment. The real problem is that it should never have been undertaken, at all, and certainly not in secret without public discussion. Why not get second and third opinions, as we do before undergoing a serious medical operation on our bodies. From what I have seen in an interim stage, a great deal of repainting (sorry, I have used that terrible word again) will be required to harmonize what is momentarily a disjointed set of images in which the lights have become almost impossible to reconstruction, where the modelling is totally idiosyncratic, where the treatment of the male donor’s face (a member of the Lenzi family?) looks like he had suffered a bout with small pox. Perhaps the current crop of restorers are better than Tintori, perhaps not. The point is that there was little good reason to jump into this dangerous effort.

In order to save the saveable, I suggest that all reintegration be stopped and the work left as it now appears. I made the same point to officials present in August and repeat it now. In order to give the viewer, whether a sophisticated one, or a neophyte, a tangible impression of Masaccio’s art and his probable intentions, I propose that a scale computer generated facsimile be created and placed next to the “original.” In this way we would prevent further tampering with such a basic creation while providing a viable imagine to the public. The facsimile can readily be changed from time to time, as our knowledge of Masaccio, of his working methods, and of the early Renaissance expand. What is wrong with applying this solution immediately to the Trinity, and using it widely as a substitution for drastic interventions? In this way we would save the text for posterity, prove a highly readable view to the public and probably even save money which can be diverted to places where works are rotting away in neglect.

I call upon the Opificio and the Superintendents of Florence, to take up this proposal, which demands a certain degree of courage. They would become true pioneers in the restoration field, and simultaneously would protect our treasures.